MOOSIC — As the umpires stood there motionless, Tyler Wade sheepishly kept going around the bases — all four of them — until he tapped a foot on home plate after his bouncer clanked off the glove of a Syracuse infielder.
It turned out to be a foul ball.
But it painted a perfect picture of how Sunday went for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
They kept going around in circles, finding only confusion on their search.
The end result was a 9-2 loss to Syracuse that helped prevent the RailRiders from clinching their ninth International League North Division title in 12 years, a feat that will have to wait until at least Monday.
“It’s absolutely frustrating on my part,” said RailRiders starting pitcher Brady Lail, who took the loss. “I had one job. That’s to win. And I didn’t do it.”
It wasn’t for lack of trying.
Lail was masterful while pitching perfect baseball through the first three innings and took a one-hit shutout and a 2-0 lead into the fifth.
Then things inexplicably fell apart.
A leadoff error in the fifth inning triggered a six-run outburst as Syracuse slammed the first two of its four home runs to prevent a three-game RailRiders sweep.
Spencer Kieboom started the avalanche by reaching on third baseman Cito Culver’s high throw to first base, and Michael Almanzar followed by blasting a two-run homer to left field to tie the game at 2-2. Irving Falu followed a single and a walk with an RBI double, then Brandon Snyder crushed a three-run shot to center field and all of a sudden, the Chiefs had a 6-2 cushion.
“I’ve felt good ever since I’ve come back from the bullpen,” said Lail, who’s worked as both a starter and a reliever this season. “I felt great all the way through, until throwing the last pitch. I don’t think I’ve ever been this strong in my career. I don’t think it’s a mental thing, it’s an execution thing. I’ve got to get hitters out. And when I make that mistake, I’ve got to keep it in the yard.
An overwhelming sense of exasperation boiled over on the RailRiders in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Wade sent a two-out bouncer to first base that bopped off the glove of infielder Matt Skole. As the ball drifted away, Wade made a dash for second base, then hesitantly continued toward third when Skole made a slow jog toward the ball. As Skole finally picked up the ball and casually tossed it into the stands, Wade skipped home, believing he either scored or would be placed in scoring position on the basepaths.
Nothing told him otherwise, because no signal from any of the three umpires ever came during Wade’s romp around the basepaths.
And when the umpires did finally communicate the ruling, they called it a foul ball.
‘“He said the ball hit off my foot (in the batter’s box),” Wade said of home plate umpire Charlie Ramos, adding the bouncer that came off his bat didn’t come close to either of his feet.
That’s also the explanation that was given to mild-mannered RailRiders manager Al Pedrique, who flew into a rage while arguing the call, kicked dirt on home plate and was immediately ejected from the game.
“The one thing I don’t appreciate is when you lie to me,” Pedrique said of his conversation with Ramos. “And then you don’t make the call right away. He (Ramos) said the ball hit his (Wade’s) foot. Look at the video, it never hit his foot. It was a fair ball. Wade was almost at second base, because he didn’t see anybody making the call.”
That lack of communication concerned Wade more than the actual foul ball call.
“There was no call made,” Wade said. “That’s how guys get hurt. Even if it’s the wrong call, at least at least call something, so players know what’s going on.”
Not that the play affected the outcome, but it was a prime example of a good performance gone bad for the RailRiders.
A day after clinching an IL playoff berth, the 83-50 RailRiders had a shot to clinch the IL North crown was a victory Sunday and a Rochester loss.
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre seemed intent on holding up its end, as Lail cruised through the first four innings and RBI singles by Culver and Mason Williams in the bottom of the fourth gave the RailRiders a 2-0 lead.
Lail’s dominance didn’t last, though, and neither did Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s lead.
“After that, he struggled with his command,” Pedrique said. “He’s one of the kids who works so hard on a daily basis. i know how badly he wants to help the team, but sometimes it doesn’t go his way. I’m sure he’s frustrated.”
Syracuse added Chad Huffman’s solo homer off Lail in the sixth inning and Snyder’s second home run of the day, a two-run blast off Giovanny Gallegos in the ninth to set the final score.
That kept the RailRiders magic number for clinching the IL North at 2, but they’ll have a chance plenty of opportunity to make it 0 over the coming days, when Rochester visits PNC Field for a four-game series beginning at 7:05 p.m. Monday.
“It’s part of baseball,” Wade shrugged.
Syracuse 9, RailRiders 2
DP: Chiefs 2; LOB: Chiefs 4, RailRiders 6; 2B: Falu (19); Choi 2 (21), Wade 18; HR: Snyder 2 (22), Almanzar (9), Huffman (1).
Jepsen, W (2-5)`1`1`0`0`0`2
Lail, L (6-5)`6`7`7`6`2`5
Umpires: Charlie Ramos, HP; James Rackley, 1B; Charlie Ramos, 1B; Mike Cerra, 3B.
Time: 2:34; Att.: 7,056.